Impact of Immigration on a First Generation Immigrant
by Fiona Fong, January 2016
Home is one’s birthplace, formalized by memory. Home to billions of people is China. The Chinese civilization is the world’s oldest and today its largest. China is home to more than fifty distinct ethnics groups and a wide range of traditional lifestyles, often in close partnership with nature. China is home to the world’s largest mountains, vast deserts ranging from the searing hot to the mind-numbing cold. China is known not only for its beauty but also for its immense social and environmental problems. China has an unfair distribution of wealth that has caused poverty, social outcasts, and civil unrest. People move to other countries for many reasons, but for undocumented migrants it is usually because they need to escape from poverty, natural disasters, violence, armed conflict or persecution. My grandfather, Moon Fong, is one of the many people who have immigrated from China to America, where it is more accommodating to his standard of living. Moon’s decision to move to America was provoked by the suppression of speech, which the Chinese government enforced, and the opportunity for economic security, which he now feels was worth leaving his family for.
Moon, an immigrant from Taishan, was exiled from his home on the year of 1951 at the age of twenty-nine. He was forced to leave his family and move to America because he had bad-mouthed the government during a meeting. Moon illegally immigrated to America by filing documents with his auntie’s friend as his fake father. Moon obtained valid documentation to come to America but wasn’t immediately released until the Angel Island Detention Center permitted him to be. In America, he worked as a janitor at a hotel and as a produce transporter for Safeway; he made just enough money to send to his family in China and saved a little to spend on himself. When Moon was separated from his family, he met a Caucasian man named John Smith in the U.S. who forever impacted his life on the night of Thanksgiving. Through John’s help, after around fifteen years of living in America, Moon was able to learn English and bring his family over to America through The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, which established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families. After Moon’s ninety-three years of living in America, he has finally been able to share his story of coming to America with his granddaughter, Fiona.
I, Fiona Fong, have had the honor of interviewing my grandpa through my English 96-1A class at City College of San Francisco, facilitated by Professor Mayers. If I had not taken this class, I might have never fully gotten to know my grandpa’s story. Throughout the semester, we analyzed excerpts of oral histories published by Voice of Witness, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to make the unheard voices of individuals heard. In our class, we read insightful books that show different viewpoints about immigration. They Take Our Jobs!: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration, by Aviva Chomsky, covers how immigration plays a part in the economy, the law, race and government policies. Underground America, the third book in the Voice of Witness series, presents individual oral histories of men and women struggling to sculpt lives for themselves in the U.S. For our last project of the semester, each student will interview one person who has experienced moving from one place to another. The significance of our fourth and last project is to introduce a more intimate and realistic perspective of immigration by asking questions and evaluating our interviewee across a table, face to face, with only a recorder between us.
Moon’s choice of words caused his exile from Taishan, China; he believes that illegally coming to America was worth carrying out because he has found his freedom of expression even if he had missed the occasion of seeing his family for fifteen years. Freedom of expression was a political factor that drew Moon to America for the benefit of himself and his family. During a meeting, he pondered on a thought and shared it with the group. Moon said, “There has been a huge increase in population.” “Should we immigrate to America?” In this statement, Moon realizes that China’s system of government cannot comprehend the increase of population effectively. His family and village were starving. He was indicating that America was more capable than China in handling the issues of overpopulation. China is increasingly responsive to special interests and not to the public interest. The government eventually found out what Moon had shared. The next day, government officials came to Moon’s house with intentions of arresting him and forcing him to take back what he said about the government. “In China, you aren’t allowed to say whatever you like.” Moon had to filter what his true feelings were for the sake of the government. He was threatened the moment he expressed his true feelings. He felt he couldn’t benefit from the government’s views, which enhanced his longing to go to America—the land of the free.
Moon’s aunt was able to convince her American friend to acknowledge Moon as his son so Moon could come to America. Moon and his imitation father underwent a trial with a jury. Throughout the trial, the judge asked Moon’s fake father questions like, “How old is your son? What is your son’s favorite food?” To Moon, the judge asked what was in front of his father’s house. “What kind of tree is outside of your house? “What is in front of your doorstep?” The judge asked the same questions and if both of them did not answer correctly, Moon would have never been able to stay in America. During the interview, he said, “The reason why I came to America was because America protects the freedom of speech and this right belongs to everyone in America. You can even bad mouth the president. So that is why I came to America.” America was the place for Moon where he knew he didn’t have to refrain from voicing his true feelings. Moon was attracted to America more than China because America protected his rights as a human that China oppressed.
After successfully obtaining the proper documents to come to America, Moon left his family in China for fifteen years and worked two jobs, a sacrifice he now feels was worth regaining his family. Angel Island was an immigration station where immigrants entering the United States were detained and interrogated. “By the time I arrived in San Francisco, California, I was not immediately released from the custody of the Angel Island Immigration Detention Center.” The detention center did not permit any immigrant to leave the island until they had gone through proper the procedures of being “decontaminated.” The only two jobs Moon ever worked in America was as a janitor at a hotel and a produce transporter for Safeway. He made just enough money to send money back to his family in China and pay his own bills in America. Until his day, he has been working and sending money back to China. “During the time when I was not a citizen, I felt really lonely. I came to America all alone. My family was all in China. My wife, my son that was 13 years old and my 14-year-old daughter were in Hong Kong. Because of the fact that I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t bring my wife and my two children, Anton and Helen, at the time. ” Coming to America came with consequences, Moon came to earn more money in America and gave up his time with his family in exchange. Family was the reason why he moved to America but his support from his family wasn’t reachable. He had Newton, his third child at the age of 50. His fifteen years of separation from his family caused a 30-year gap between Helen and Newton. “ I have missed the chance to be there to witness the peak of my children’s growth. When I saw my wife when she arrived to America, I noticed signs of aging on her features. These fifteen years without my family was very hard to bear.” This shows that his opportunity of coming America came with a price. To earn more money and human rights, Moon left everything in China. Moon felt that obtaining proper documents to come to America and working two jobs was a sacrifice that was worth enduring for his family.
The article “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges,” by Mary C. Waters and Tomás R. Jiménez, was published in the Annual Review of Sociology in 2005. The contributing authors are professors at Harvard University’s Department of Sociology. The research article focuses primarily on how immigrant assimilation is changing. Waters and Jiménez examine the change in immigrant assimilation through quantitative studies using four indicators of assimilation: “socioeconomic status, language assimilation, geography of immigrant settlement to measure immigrant assimilation.” The many experiences of European Immigrants during the Great Depression and the restrictive laws of the 1920s created historical geological movement as an independent variable predicting the degree of assimilation. Waters was able to analyze immigration through political and economic lenses. Through political and economic forces, Waters and Jiménez were able to measure migration and support Moon’s actions of moving to America to become economically stable. Through this article Mary C. Waters and Tomás R. Jiménez dissected immigration looking at immigrants’ socioeconomic status, language assimilation and the geography of settlement to measure immigrant assimilation, which also shows that Moon’s decision to come into America mirrors those of many.
On the night of Thanksgiving, Moon was expecting to spend the evening alone, for his family was in China, but he spent it with John Smith, the man who finally gave my grandfather the ability to bring his wife and two children to America, to learn English as his second language and to believe that migrating to America was worth it. Living in Chinatown helped him endure his sense of loneliness. Chinatown was a little taste of home he found in America. “Well, living near Chinatown made me feel like the aspect of China was present: fumes of lit cigarettes and buckets of stale water thrown out of fish markets.” Moon’s description of his sense of smelling and seeing showed that the Chinese culture and customs in San Francisco’s Chinatown weren’t that different from China’s. Even though he was away from home, San Francisco Chinatown gave him a piece of home he longed for. The year he came to America he expected to spend Thanksgiving alone. On the night of Thanksgiving, my grandpa was sitting in his dimly lit apartment alone with tears dripping down his face. He heard a knock on the door; he quickly wiped his tears and opened the door. Standing outside was his friend, John Smith. “Would you like to come and live upstairs with me?” John asked. From that day on, Moon promised himself to never isolate himself to the verge of tears. John provided the sense of family that Moon had longed for in America. John saw the ethic of hard work in my grandpa. John never asked my grandpa to pay for the monthly rent for the apartment they shared together. One night, John noticed that if Moon was able to speak English, it would help alleviate an anxiety that Moon experienced in America. John said, “You don’t know English. I will teach you English.” By helping Moon diminish the language barrier, John was able to give him a sense of belonging in America. After mastering English, Moon as able to apply for citizenship for himself and his family. From the night of that one Thanksgiving, John was able to help Moon feel it was worth it to come to America by helping my grandpa overcome his language barrier, his habitual living conditions and his longing for his family and become a citizen of the U.S.
Moon’s decision to move to America was provoked by the suppression of speech that the Chinese government enforced. Although he missed being a part of his children’s childhood, he believes immigrating to America was worth it because he has found his freedom of expression; moreover, it was here he met the man he feels forever indebted to for helping him learn English as his second language, reunite with his family in America, and achieve economic security.
Foner, Nancy. “The Immigrant Family: Cultural Legacies and Cultural Changes”. International Migration Review 31.4 (1997): 961–974. Web.
Waters, Mary C., and Tomás R. Jiménez. “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges”. Annual Review of Sociology 31 (2005): 105–125. Web.
Fiona: What is your name?
Sarah: I will be translating for Mr.Fong. My name is Sarah.
Fiona: How old are you?
Moon: I am 93 years old.
Fiona: What country did you immigrate from to America?
Moon: I immigrated from Taishan, China.
Fiona:Do you currently live in The U.S?
Moon: I currently live in San Francisco , California.
Fiona: Did you immigrate during a historic event?
Moon:Yes, I did immigrate during a historic event. There wasn’t any food to eat.
Fiona: Why did you leave Taishan?
Moon: I was forced to leave because I had spoken against the government. In China, you aren’t allowed to say whatever you like.
Fiona: What did you say that caused the government to exile you from Taishan?
Moon:When I outspokenly said. “There are too many people the population. Do you think we should immigrate?” And the people began to think I was rebelling against the government.
Fiona: How did they force you to leave?
Moon: The government said they were going to catch me and imprison me if I didn’t take back what I had said.
Fiona: Is there a reason why you chose America as your asylum?
Moon:Yes, the reason why I came to America was because America believe in the freedom of speech and this right belongs to everyone in America. You can even bad mouth the president. So that is why I came to America.
Fiona: Did you come to America illegally?
Moon: Yes, there was no choice.
Fiona: How did you come to America?
Moon: My father’s sister knew someone from America who was willing to sign papers as my father so that I can come to America. We began to recognize each other as father and son only on the paperwork.
Fiona: Was it a long process to get into America?
Moon: Yes, I couldn’t have immediately gone to America after the paperworks were processed. When I came to America I was imprisoned on Angel Island. They kept us immigrants on Angel Island because they believed that we were contaminated with germs and diseases. The Imprisoners disrespected and invaded my privacy.
Fiona: May you please specify on what happened during your process of coming over to America?
Moon: In order for me to come to America I had to go through a trial before a judge. The trial involved the judge, my father and I. But the judge individually interviewed me and then my father. Throughout the trial the judge asked my fake father questions like, “How old is your son? What was my favorite food? And as for me, judged asked what was in front of the house. “What kind of tree was outside your house?”” What was in front of your doorstep?” The judge asked the same questions and if both of us did not answer correctly then I wouldn’t have been able to come over to America. That’s what before we went to see the jury we prepared ahead of time for the questions he was going to ask. And our objective was to answer the questions or I couldn’t have come to America.
Fiona: Did you pass the first trial?
Moon: Yes I did pass.
Fiona: In America, what struggles did you go through that the citizens wouldn’t have?
Moon: During the time when I was not a citizen, I felt really lonely. I came to America all alone. My family were all in China. My wife, son that was 13 years old and my 14 year old daughter were in Hong Kong. The fact that I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t bring my wife and my two children at the time.
Fiona: What jobs did you work in America?
Moon: I had to work two jobs so I can send money back to China and pay off the rent in America. I was working at Safeway as service clerk and a janitor at a hotel. If I didn’t work both jobs I wouldn’t have been able to support my family and myself.
Fiona: Did you family eventually come over to America? If yes()ask how long
Moon: It took 20 years to bring my wife and two children to the U.S. When I left China my children were still around 10 years old. By the time they came to America, my children were already 30.
Fiona: What complications had the missing time period of 20 years with your family affect you in what ways?
Moon: I have missed the chance to be there to witness the peak of my children’s growth. When I saw my wife when she arrived to America, I had noticed signs of aging on her features. These 20 years without my family was very hard to bear and heartbreaking. Because I couldn’t see my lover. But without these experiences I wouldn’t have met the man I am greatly in debt to.
Fiona: Did this man help you cope with the feelings of immigration and loneliness?
Moon: This caucasian man is older than by 20 years. The man knew that My whole family was in Hong Kong. Thanksgiving was the hardest night for me to go through. Thanksgiving is the time to gather with family members and have a meal. On the night of Thanksgiving I was all alone in my room crying and missing my family. The caucasian man came down to invite upstairs to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. I will never forgive those words he said that made me forever in debt to him. He said to me, ”You don’t know English. I will teach you English. “He shared the comfort of his home to me. He never asked me to pay for rent. He also helped me send money over to my family. He is the biggest contributor to all my success in life. Now every Thanksgiving after the one the caucasian man invited me to, I do not eat alone anymore. I have someone to spend it with now.
Fiona: So that answers the questions: What struggle did you face that a citizen wouldn’t have? As in he wasn’t able to see his family and the other question, which was How did you assimilate to the customs and culture of America? So because of that man, grandpa was able to learn english and able to mediate some of the stress he had.
Moon: Thinking back to those experiences it’s really hard to think of without feeling sad.
Fiona: What did you experience in China that you did not experience in America?
Moon: The Statue of Liberty is a symbol I would represents America the place of freedom where you wouldn’t be under arrested for bad mouthing the government or political figures.
Fiona: How did you bring your wife over?
Moon: After twenty years of waiting, I was able to bring her to America because of the Democratic party. The president during that time signed a bill that granted immigrants citizenship if they admitted to being undocumented.
Fiona: How did the political experience affect you?
Moon: Through this experience, I will be forever rooting for the democrats. If it wasn’t for democrats, I would have never seen my family again.
Fiona: Are you or were you limited to health care?
Moon: I am currently with CCHP because I do not qualify for a white card. Because I am considered middle class I, a 93-year old man have to paying around $300 dollars for simple medications such as eye drops, ear drops, vitamins and cough syrup. Whereas a person with a white card doesn’t have to pay a penny.
Fiona: Did you move to other countries?
Moon: No, I really like America?
Fiona: If you could sum up one reason why you like America what would that be?
Moon: The freedom of speech that is exhibited throughout America.
Fiona: What perspective of immigration have changed or remained the same?
Moon: Back then, if you were a real citizen, you can document your family as citizens within half a year. Now, the process is even more extensive. Another perspective of immigration that has changed is that back then you can become a citizen if your sibling was but now the reforms have changed.
Fiona: Why do you think Immigration in America changed?
Moon: Immigration in America changed because of the increased levels of poverty and immigrants.
Fiona: What kind of culture and traditions that still stuck to you from China?
Moon: Well living near Chinatown made me feel like the aspect of China was present; fumes of lit cigarettes and buckets of stale water thrown out of fish markets.
How much did you pay for rent?
who was john smith
in a way did you pay him back?
Fiona: Thank Moon for sharing your story.
Moon: You are welcome.